Great Ethiopian Run

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(Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

The Great Ethiopian Run International 10km is a flagship event held every year in November. Since 2002, the event has been the biggest road race in Africa and has been held without interruption for the past 19 years. The 20th edition of the race, the 2020 TOTAL Great Ethiopian Run International 10km, was scheduled to be held on 15th November 2020. However, due to the current situation of COVID-19, the race was postponed.
The new date for the race has been set for Sunday 10 January 2021, with 12,500 participants. The mass race will employ three wave starts setting off with 15-minute intervals. Capital sat down with Ermias Ayele, the GM of Great Run Ethiopia for an inside view. Excerpts;

Capital: It has been 20 years since the inception of ‘The great Ethiopian run.’ How have the last 20 years been?
Ermias Ayele: The first great run was held on November 25, 2001. 20 years is not by any means a simple time it is a long journey which have been encompassed by different milestones. I have been here for the last 11 years in different roles and within the last 20 years, the great run has achieved different progresses. For example, in terms of participants from 10,000 participants to 45,000 as of last year and even our plan for this year was to have 50,000 participants but the global pandemic has stopped us on our tracks. Due to the pandemic, we have decreased the number to 12,500 which is only 25 percent of our plan. All in all we can say the event has grown but this year is exceptional since the pandemic is global.
Previously, there was only one race; The 10 km race, but now there is a children’s race event aside from the main 10km race and a disability race on the morning of the day of the 10 km race. Therefore, we can say the event by itself has diversified.
The other thing that the great run has achieved is that it has become a large public driver in terms of changing the public awareness on sport. Whenever we promote our races’ we not only promote the races but we also give trainings to adopt active health living in the society.
The other thing we do in relation with the race are different kinds of charity works. There is a campaign called running for cause with the aim of helping others. In the last 20 years we raised more than 15 million birr and supported about 32 organizations. Ministry of Women, Children and Youth select the beneficiaries and last year we raised 2 million birr and built schools in remote area found in Waghimra zone in Amhara Regional State with the help of Haile Gebresilassie. We were planning to mobilize the community in the area to organize a race but due to Covid it has been canceled.
The great run has also resulted in sport tourism. Tourists have been coming to Ethiopia with an aim of participating in the race. Last year alone, 400 people came to Ethiopia to participate in the race. The largest number we have received as race tourists was in 2015, with the number of tourist participants being 700. At the time, a research was done on the economic impact of the 700 participants and it was found that the participants contributed 2 million dollars to the economy.

The great run is also a platform for athletes to promote themselves.
Last year, on our 19th year, we got a recognition as the ‘Best International Running Event award’ form runners world.
Lastly, we can say we have built local capacity. In 2001, the first race was modeled from England, the great north run organizers helped in assisting us, but through the years we have built our own capacity, fully run by Ethiopians.

Capital: What were the challenges throughout the last 20 years?
Ermias: Great run is the first in Ethiopia of its kind, and being the first always presents challenges. Using sport as a business was tough, the whole aspect of commercializing sport, getting sponsors, doing consistent athletic races with the public are some of the challenges. And in context of our country also timing at times is an issue. In one of our races, two of our participants had died during the competition which is an unfortunate challenge. However, from all of the challenges we have continued to learn from them as we seek to provide a great experience.

Capital: How are you coping with Covid? And how is it affecting your operation?
Ermias: Covid is a global issue and therefore we have to think accordingly. One of the challenges of Covid is the restriction of public gathering and since our work by its nature needs public gathering it held us down. The 20th edition of the race, the 2020 TOTAL Great Ethiopian Run International 10km, was scheduled to be held on 15th November 2020. However, due to the current situation of COVID-19, we were forced to postpone the race.
We have canceled two races. One of our races was organized with Addis Ababa Roads Authority dedicated on road safety, and the other was the children race we prepared with the European union.
Yet we didn’t just sit and watch, having viewed global practices we prepared two virtual races called stay safe Ethiopia, and also weekly video programs on how to work out at home.
Even though we had planned to have 50,000 participants after consulting with the Ministry of Health and Public Health Institution we have decide to decrease the number to 12,500. In order fulfill the Covid protocol, we have prepared face masks for participants, as well as testing temperatures of participants as we seek to create awareness on the matter.
It is difficult preparing such kinds of public gathering event at this time and we are working round the clock to focus on all precautions.

Capital: What are your precautions regarding Covid?
Ermias: We have decreased the number of participants; the mass race will employ three wave starts setting off with 15-minute intervals.
A number of precautionary measures will be in place to guard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Individual registration has been done through Telegram Bot.
All participants have to sign a waiver form saying they undertake not to take part in the race if they have any underlying health problems that would make them more vulnerable to transmitting or becoming infected by the COVID-19 virus
Race Packs will be provided: In the week before the race all participants will receive, together with their race t-shirt, a WHO-approved 3-layer cotton mask. Please note, however, that our annual Sport Expo will not be staged this year to avoid unnecessary gathering. All race packs will be distributed at 8 selected TOTAL service stations with participants nominating their preferred collecting station at the time of registration.
To hydrate themselves during the run, participants will be encouraged to bring their own drink on race day. A bottle of Arki water will also be included in the race pack.
Participants are strongly advised not to come to the race, on race day if they do not feel well in the 14 days leading up to race day.
Temperature checks as participants arrive at the start will be administered. There will be availability of hand sanitizers at multiple locations around the start and finish; and a requirement for participants to wear masks in all assembly areas at the start until the point at which they start the run and after they finish the run will be mandatory.
Furthermore, a wave system will be used for the start which will enable participants to take part in the run with a degree of distancing. Although we have used wave starts in the past, for this race we will employ multiple waves with no more than 1,000 participants in each wave. More details will be given shortly.
The course will be a point-to-point course with a finish area that is different and separated from the start. We will have a system in place that guards against the gathering of large numbers of participants as they exit the finish.

Capital: How much is the charity support for this year?
Ermias: Running for cause is the official fundraising campaign for 2020 Total great run to rise about 500,000 birr for two selected beneficiaries working with children and women. The first is ‘Tikuret Lesetoch ena Lehitsanat Mahiber’ and Omo child foundation. This year, the registration and number of participants has decreased and the amount will also decrease.

Capital: Do you have any other upcoming plans?
Ermias: We are planning to prepare an annual event running race which considers Covid. It will be a monthly event for one year at Entoto park which is really creative, there will be a limited number of participants and will be launched two weeks after the great run.